The sad case of GDS and the tax manuals

The UK’s Government Digital Service has been doing great work in putting users’ needs before the needs of government, so it was a shock to see the revised tax manuals the GDS and HMRC published recently.

In the GDS blog post, First HMRC manual on GOV.UK – give us your feedback, Till Worth explained:

“HMRC has built a new publishing system which makes it easier for its tax experts to update and maintain the content of the manuals. Tax agents, accountants and specialists need to be able to see the tax manuals exactly how HMRC publishes them internally, so the GDS team knew we couldn’t touch the content. We did create a new design for the manuals to make them more user-friendly and bring them in line with GDS design principles.”

From what I can see, there’s been two changes:

  1. New look and feel
  2. Changes to the navigation and search

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TCeurope webinar: The changing nature of User Assistance content​

Next week, Ellis will be presenting an updated version of his presentation on the changing nature of User Assistance content​. This webinar is part of the TCeurope 2015 Colloquium. TCeurope is a European society bringing together six technical communication societies.

We’ll explore whether the common technical communication practices, which were established and have remained essentially unchanged since the late 1980s, are still valid today.

This free webinar will be presented on 26th March 2015 between 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm CET (6:30pm-7:30 GMT).

We’re updating our technical writing induction course in the next few days

In the next few days, people taking Cherryleaf’s technical writing induction course will be able to access an updated version of it.

As part of the course’s accreditation by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, we received their feedback on the course content. We decided to update the course to incorporate the suggestions they made when the course was re-accredited last year. We also amended the course so that some of the modules could be used in other courses.

You’ll find new video recordings and some new exercises. Approximately 10% of the learning content has been changed. The final steps are for us to publish the new course notes, upload all the new content to our shopping cart, and update the relevant page on our website. We’ll make the old and the new versions available to any existing students, so no-one misses out.

How on earth could the Apple Watch be used in technical communication?

Apple watchWhenever Apple launches a new product range, there’s a great deal of buzz and excitement. There’s lots of speculation as to how the technology could be applied by different professions and by consumers. Yesterday’s launch of the Apple Watch was no exception.

The title of this post may give away the fact that this post contains wild guesses. We may well look back on in five years time and ask, what were we thinking?

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Accessibility is not only for people with disabilities

Accessibility is in the news again:

“Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T., saying both universities violated antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.”

“Much of Harvard’s online content is either not captioned or is inaccurately or unintelligibly captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, the complaint said, echoing language used in the M.I.T. complaint. Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

“I’m also hopeful that Accessibility is the next big project to tackle for the engineering team. A 2.0 release, if you will. But more than anything, I am dismayed. I am dismayed that Accessibility was treated not even as a mere afterthought, but as something worth sacrificing completely for the sake of flashiness.”


“Website owners, audio and video producers, event organizers, those considering careers in captioning and interpreting, and anyone interested in improving communication and information access will find this book useful and enlightening. It dispels common myths about deaf and hard-of-hearing people, describes my personal experiences with deafness, and shares some examples of quality captioning for various types of aural information that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of hearing abilities.”

Many organisations have made their websites accessible, but there’s many (us included) that need to add subtitles (known as closed captions in the USA) to all the videos they publish.

Hopefully, the case for accessibility will continue to pervade over the desire to use the latest flashy, inaccessible, technology.

Customers as advocates

I attended the Customers as Advocates conference yesterday, at the invitation of the hosts Strand Writing and Design. Strand is a copywriting company, and their conference focused on the challenges of creating relationships with customers that will lead onto them providing customer references and case studies.

Although the conference was focused on case studies and advocacy, I was struck by the implications for the user assistance and technical content that organisations produce.

Below are my summaries of two of the presentations.

Ian Williams – Customer Experience and the disappearing sales process

Ian Williams, of Jericho Consulting, looked at what he called “the disappearing sales process”. He quoted research from Google, IDG and Forrester showing how important content and customer recommendations are in the buying process today:

  • 57-70% of the buying journey is complete before a potential customer looks at marketing content or engages with anyone in the sales team (source: CEB/Google).
  • 21% of buying cycle is spent by business buyers in conversations with peers and colleagues (source: IDG).
  • 56% of the buying cycles is spent by business buyers searching for and engaging with content (source: IDG).

He also stated that Customer Experience, and an organisation’s brand, is about “keeping your promise” – that the customer’s expectations must be matched by what they actually get.

Implications for technical communication

This is more evidence that the content Technical Authors create (user guides, FAQs, Help, getting started guides, troubleshooting information etc.) can be an important factor in the buying process. Prospects will do their research, and they seek out trustworthy content about a product.

It also highlights the importance of a consistent message and experience throughout the customer journey. The “promise” must be consistent in the marketing and the user assistance. You also need to deliver on that promise; poor quality post-sales content just won’t do any more.

Mark Gallagher – How Formula 1 will affect your business

Mark Gallagher has been a senior F1 executive of over 20 years. He talked about how the business of Formula 1 is changing, and how those developments are likely to affect the wider business world.

He explained that the Formula 1 constructors were now the world’s experts in capturing data, analysing data, and providing information on performance improvement to the end user. Constructors, such as McLaren, were now applying this expertise to a wide range of industry sectors.

Mark predicted that this expertise could be applied to the “Internet of Things”, where devices capture data and provide advice and information to the end user.

IMPLICATIONS FOR TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION

If these capabilities were applied to mainstream software, perhaps we could see applications such as Word and Excel capturing data on how you use the software, and then providing advice on how you could have completed that task in a better way.

In fact, some applications are providing this type of feedback already. Here’s a screenshot from an Android app called Steno Keyboard. It analyses your keystrokes and tells you if there was a better way:

Screen from Steno Keyboard app

The type of development would change user documentation into performance support, and move more of the user content into the application itself.

Conclusions

This post represents just a few notes from the conference. It’s clear that content, in all its forms, is becoming a key factor in the buying cycle. User Assistance is not just for customers, it’s for prospective customers as well.